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Council delays implementation of salary plan

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County: Inflationary adjustment also reduced

By Arin McKenna

On April 10, Los Alamos County Council approved a higher compensation plan geared toward attracting and retaining “a high performing and motivated workforce.”After Wednesday night’s budget hearings, the new salary plan remains more or less an aspiration.

The plan council approved would have targeted compensation levels at 15 percent above market average.  Most county positions currently average 5 percent above the mean. To implement the plan fully would mean an 8 percent increase in the salary plan.

County administrator Harry Burgess presented two options for moving toward that goal. The first was to increase the salary budget by 3.5 percent, divided between compensation plan implementation and inflationary and merit raises.
Burgess also presented an option for a slightly higher increase related to the revenue stabilization fund.

The revenue stabilization fund currently has $600,000, which falls below the minimum target of 5 percent of general funds. The proposed budget would bring that to $3.4 million by the end of the fiscal year.

The county has three fiscal years to achieve that minimum target, so Burgess suggested using $1 million earmarked for the stabilization fund to increase moneys available for compensation, capital improvement projects and unmet needs.

Using those additional funds, Burgess suggested increasing the compensation budget to 4.5 percent, an approximate increase of $440,000 over FY2012, divided equally between plan implementation, inflation and merit.

The proposed 1.5 percent increase for the compensation plan would move the county 20 percent toward achieving the goals set last week.

Many of the arguments put forth when the plan was adopted were rehashed Wednesday. Several councilors argued that the county does not have a problem with recruiting or retaining employees, so there was no need to implement the plan.

Vice Chair Ron Selvage argued against an across the board increase in the salary plan, since certain positions are well above average — an argument he made last week. Staff again explained that was not what was being proposed. Job titles would be evaluated individually, with some receiving an increase and others being reduced to achieve 15 percent above market average for all positions.

The only raise that would be across the board would be the 1.5 percent inflationary increase, which is slightly above the Employee Cost Index of 1.3 percent and half the Consumer Price Index, which is at 3 percent. Selvage opposed the inflationary increase as well, contending that all raises should be based on merit. Councilor Mike Wismer opposed any increase to the salary budget except for merit.

Councilor Geoff Rodgers — who had voted against the compensation plan along with Councilor Vincent Chiravalle — made a motion to adopt a 3 percent increase in the salary budget, with 1.5 percent for merit raises and .75 percent each for inflation and compensation plan implementation.

In proposing the motion, Rodgers quoted something a federal judge had once said to him, “This is not about truth or justice, it’s about finding something everyone can agree to.”

Councilor David Izraelevitz, who voted against the motion, said, “If we’re serious about positioning ourselves to that point where we have a competitive salary plan, that doesn’t just fill that positions, having a .75 percent adjustment does not get us to where we want to go.  

“We’ll always find someone who needs a job. But the question is, how can we have a good pool of candidates to choose from, and that does depend on having competitive salaries.

“Whether we have retention, per se, doesn’t mean that we have a competitive salary structure. Other local communities have high retention, but that doesn’t mean they have excellent staff.”

“I find the staff proposal well justified, well reasoned, and  I would much prefer that we get much closer to that request.”

Izraelevitz also argued against reducing inflationary raises to .75 percent.”This doesn’t adjust for market inflationary adjustment but just becomes an arbitrary number.”

Councilor Fran Berting was concerned there might not be enough funding allotted to merit raises, but basically agreed with Izraelevitz and voted against the motion.

Council Chair Sharon Stover’s vote in favor of the motion brought it to 5-2. “I’m a little bit reluctant to support this motion, but, given the environment we’re in at this point in time, I will go ahead and support this.”